When It Rains, It Pours

Jay Wingate manages to stay active.

If you’re not busy defeating allegations that you ripped off Bill Huggett’s widow, you’re facing a motion like this:

Two investigators with a Miami law firm paid a Royal Caribbean Cruises employee to obtain inside information on the amount of money the company would be willing to pay to settle workplace injury claims, the employee alleges in a sworn court affidavit.
shim-3472465The affidavit by the Royal Caribbean supervisor is attached to motions asking Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stuart Simons to disqualify the Wingate Law Firm of Miami from 75 pending lawsuits brought on behalf of cruise line crew members and passengers by the firm. A hearing on the Miami-based cruise line’s disqualification requests is set for Thursday.

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The fired employee, whose name has been redacted from the affidavit, acknowledged accepting $500 payments in exchange for Royal Caribbean’s confidential settlement projections and received a $2,000 Christmas bonus, according to her statement.

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The employee, a former supervisor for crew claims in the company’s risk management department, said she passed information on about 20 plaintiffs to Wingate investigators Maria Elena Parilla and Nelson Ayala.

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The law firm vigorously denies the employee’s claims.

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“This is just an effort to put us out of business. There was no truth about anything said in there,” said Jay Wingate, head of the law firm. “The whole thing is stupid” and “utter gibberish.”

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Any contacts between the firm and Royal Caribbean or its employees were part of normal settlement discussions, Wingate said.

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The affidavit offered no total dollar value of payments accepted by the supervisor, but payments of $500 each in 20 cases plus the Christmas bonus she received would total $12,000.

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Royal Caribbean did not return several telephone calls seeking comment.

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“What you’re talking about is what amounts to a form of commercial bribery,” said Curtis J. Mase of Mase Gassenheimer & Lara in Miami. He represents RCL.

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“The overarching purpose of the motion is to seek to disqualify an attorney who engaged in very improper conduct,” Mase said.

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The dozens of identical motions filed Tuesday seek to disqualify Wingate and firm attorney Peter Sotolongo from the cases.

Hmm. This story also appeared in Joan’s column in today’s Miami Herald. She usually doesn’t run a story if the DBR is also covering it.Did Curtis or his client shop this or put out a press release?We all know the dirty business of some firms hiring investigators to generate clients. But something about this doesn’t sit right.

I look forward to Jay’s response brief. Email me if someone has more to share on this story.